Four-fifths of UK children are “flourishing” but one-in-twenty is not

Janet Downs's picture
Four-fifths of children in the UK are “flourishing” according to The Good Childhood Report 2013. But one-in-twenty is not.

The Children’s Society’s survey looked at children’s satisfaction with such factors as family, appearance and school. The factors, collectively called the Good Childhood Index domains, found the areas with the greatest decline in satisfaction between age 8 and 15 were school, appearance, money/possessions and the future. The factors with the greatest increases between 15 and 16/17 were choice, family and appearance.

Satisfaction with school was linked with teenagers’ perception of their ability to make their own choices in exam subjects and post-school progression. The more disadvantaged the child, the more likely s/he was to express unhappiness about the amount of available choice. And academic children sometimes felt pressurized to study certain academic subjects.

The UK was 14th out of 29 European and North American countries for children’s level of subjective well-being. The top 7 countries (in order) were the Netherlands, Iceland, Spain, Finland, Greece, Belgium and Norway. The bottom 7 countries (in descending order) were USA, Canada, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

That’s the negative. What about positive aspects to do with learning? The report found:

1 Young people were enthusiastic about learning, both formal and informal.

2 Their satisfaction with learning was linked to a sense of achievement.

3 Learning was a sole occupation for some children while others thought it was a social experience.

4 Reading for fun was especially associated with well-being.

Author’s comments:

It’s encouraging that so many young people were keen on learning both in and out of school. However, the report made it clear that satisfaction with learning was linked to a sense of achievement. The trend in the last few years has been towards grading children according to their performance in tests. Some adults perceive this competition as being a necessary part of raising standards. But it’s unclear how telling children they’re middling or in the bottom deciles would encourage them to try harder. It’s far better to link achievement with increasing a personal best rather than being at the top. This is as true for the high-achieving pupil as for the one at the lower end of the ability range. The former could become complacent or lazy if they became top with little effort.

The report stressed the importance of reading. This wasn’t measured by literacy levels, important though they are, but with life satisfaction. Encouraging young people to read for pleasure is essential. But Gove slashed funding for Bookstart by more than 50% in 2011 and local councils are closing libraries to save money. And Gove values books for their difficulty quotient not for their fun value. That’s not to say that reading difficult books should not be encouraged but the bottom line for any reading is whether it satisfies the reader.

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